Saturday, June 29, 2013

One Year

Today marks one year since Bryan died.

I really can't believe it hasn't been a lot longer.  I suppose when you go through a major life change, it's normal for your sense of time to get a little skewed.  So much has changed that it feels like at least several years have passed- probably more like five.

And I think that's a good thing. It means that more healing has taken place than seems possible in just one year.  It means we've moved on and started a new life.

Over the next week or two, I plan to do a few posts sharing some of my reflections on the last year, but for now, my message is for those who are grieving.  I've learned many things in the last twelve months, but the most important lesson, while not particularly earth-shattering or grand, is most emphatically true.

There's no way through it, but through it.

That's it.  That's what I've learned.  When life is terrible, you just have to keep moving ahead.  You can't hide.  You can't go back.  Time keeps moving, and so must you.  You can wrestle with your guilt, you can indulge your grief, you can get angry, you can ask why.  All of that is acceptable.  All of that is expected.  But, in the end, whether or not you've sorted everything out and gotten all of the answers (and you won't), the only way to deal with grief is to keep living.  

I'm not saying it's easy.  It's not.  It's excruciatingly difficult.  But it is also absolutely imperative.  And I am here to tell you that, whether it seems like it now or not, you, my dear grieving friend, will get through it as long as you keep moving.

Bear in mind though, as you go through it, that grief is by no means a straight path.  The day a loved one dies, you don't pass through the gate and begin moving briskly forward, passing one landmark at a time.  It's a road with many twists and turns and some very dark tunnels.  CS Lewis says it best (doesn't he always?):

"Grief is like a long valley,
a winding valley where any bend may reveal a totally new landscape...
[but] not every bend does.
Sometimes the surprise is the opposite one;
you are presented with exactly the same sort of country you thought you had left behind miles ago.
That is when you wonder whether the valley isn't a circular trench."
(A Grief Observed, 1961)

The minute you thought you were "over" something, that you had moved past a particular trigger, you will realize that you haven't at all.  "Am I right back where I started?  I thought I 20]3was done with this grieving thing," you'll think to yourself.  But I've come to see that those setbacks aren't really setbacks in the truest sense of the word.  They may seem to impede your progress, but if you pick yourself up and keep going, they become just another step forward in the messy valley of grief.  The darkness of the bad days lightens, almost imperceptibly at first, and then more and more as time passes.  And the dark days come less frequently.  Grief is not, as CS Lewis goes on to conclude, a circular trench after all.

My testimony to the grieving is this:  There is hope.  There is life.  There is light.  Maybe not yet, but soon.  Just keep going through it.

O, Lord,
"Remember the word to Your servant,
Upon which You have caused me to hope.
This is my comfort in my affliction,
For Your word has given me life."
Ps. 119:49-50

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Lens of Grace

A few weeks ago- actually on the Sunday of the boys' baptism- I had a shock in church.  It seems that during the week, a member had passed away.  I guess I must have fallen off the church email list or something, because, though I had heard that she had been hospitalized and that her cancer might not be as under control as they had hoped, I had no idea that it was that bad.

I was stunned.  I would like to say that I felt deeply saddened as I remembered how this woman, a fellow widow, had reached out to me during some of my darkest hours.  That came later, but first, I got angry.  "It's not fair!" was my emphatic protest.  See, this lady had a daughter- a high schooler.  Now this young lady has been robbed of both of her parents.  And it's not fair.

I found myself thinking, "How is she going to get through this?  She has another year of school.  She needs to go off to college.  This is TERRIBLE!"  And almost immediately, I realized that I was making the same mistake that people make when they look at my situation.  I was looking at the stark reality.  I failed to use the lens of grace.

See, when you're in the midst of a terrible situation, God's grace really is sufficient to sustain you.  Somehow, someway, He carries you through the darkest days.  People looking in from the outside don't know how you keep going.  They just know that if they were in your shoes, they'd collapse from the strain.

But they wouldn't.  They'd be sad, they'd be panicked, they'd be scared, they'd be angry and overwhelmed, but they'd keep going.  And if, after the initial shock wore off, they chose to let the Lord help them, they'd come through it victors.

Knowing this- that God's grace is greatest when we are weakest- gives us a different perspective on life.  Yes, when tragedy strikes our lives are changed forever.  But that doesn't mean that life is over.  It doesn't mean that we have to go through life broken.  It means that God gives us the grace to make the changes that are necessary.  He gives us the grace to heal.  And because of His grace, we can confidently move forward, not perhaps into the life we had planned for ourselves, but into the life that has been chosen for us.

I am comforted to know that this young lady is part of a church that specializes in being instruments of God's grace to the people who need it most.  She won't have to go through this alone, and I believe, looking through the lens of grace, that she can emerge from this a strong and vibrant woman, a living testament to the One who sustains her.

"So now...I commend you to God
and to the word of His grace,
which is able to build you up 
and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
Acts 20:32

Thursday, June 20, 2013


"Ah, I love to take naps."

That was Carsten.  He is one of those charmed children who relishes the opportunity to curl up with a blanket and snooze for a little bit in the afternoon.  He was a fantastic sleeper when he was a baby, and he still is today.

Of course, the reason that he, at five and a half, still wants to take an afternoon nap, probably has something to do with the fact that he rooms with two non-sleepers.  Justin and Steffen are TERRIBLE sleepers and always have been.  I must confess, before Justin was born, I thought I had the "getting kids to sleep" thing down.  Nathan never would nap, even when he was a very little baby, but he made up for it by crashing for a good 12 hours at night.  Megan and Evan slept well.  Then, along came Justin.  He had more energy than the other three kids combined, and pretty much ran round the clock.  As soon as he figured out how, (at three!) he would climb out the window at naptime and go play outside.  Even now, he's up till late at night and up again early in the morning.

Steffen is much the same way.  He is NOT sleepy.  He does NOT need a nap.  He does NOT need to go to bed at night.  Ever.

Not sleepy on the chair...

Not sleepy in the car...

Not sleepy on the stairs...

Never.  Ever.  Sleepy.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Remembering Daddy

Today, of course, was Father's Day, but it was also Bryan's birthday.  We all took some time to remember Daddy.

How many times have you heard in church or read in a book that in your life, you should stop and think about what people will have to say about you when you're gone?

It's an interesting exercise- pondering one's own eulogy.  We probably think of lofty things that we hope will one day be true of our lives: charity, charisma, kindness, success, love.  All of those things are noble goals, but the fact is, when it comes to our children, it doesn't actually take much to make an impression.

Here's a sampling of what my little people had to say about what they liked best about Daddy:

"I liked it when he made waffles."

"He always talked to me about the cats."

"My favorite time was talking to him early in the morning."

"He tickled me before bed."

"I liked praying with him at night."

Talking, cats, tickle fights, waffles: simple things.  Things that happen in the normal course of life.  It's the "regular" moments that matter the most- not big trips or exciting gifts, not even holidays, special events or "memory makers." It's just being there, listening, and being involved.  The day to day interaction is what matters to the people who love us.

John Bunyan said that if a man would live well, he should "fetch his last day to him, and make it always his company keeper."  It's true that not all of us will meet with an early death, but no matter how long we live, life is extremely short.  A mere breath, really.  If we could fully grasp the meaning in the simplest things of life, the smallest act could be infused with purpose, the littlest deed would have importance.

Few of us will do great and amazing things, but all of us will do "normal" things.  If we remember that all of those simple things are the building blocks of a life well-lived, then we can take the time to do ordinary things with love and attention.  And we will live knowing that, to the people who love us most, it's the way we do the ordinary that makes us extraordinary.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Justin and Carsten were baptized on Sunday!

Baptism is a big deal in our family.  A milestone to be celebrated.  It's the outward expression of the inward decision each one has made to become a follower of Jesus.  I was baptized when I was seven, after a walk up the aisle during the Sunday night service.  Bryan, though, was raised Presbyterian and was sprinkled as an infant.  Before we got married, we had extensive talks about baptism.  Yes, Bryan (who became a Christian as an adult) was convinced (along with Luther, Calvin, and Wesley) that the Greek word meant immersion.  Yes, he believed that it was meant to be the choice of the individual believer, not the choice of parents or the church.  No, he hadn't been immersed.

Now, I hadn't completely figured out yet that the best way to get Bryan NOT to do something was to try to get him TO do it.  But I learned pretty quickly.  He held off for awhile, and I didn't try to push him.  Then, when I was pregnant with Evan (number three), I just asked him one question, "What do you want our children to do about baptism?"

That sealed the deal for Daddy.  Bryan was baptized in the Medina River in 2004, over ten years after he became a Christian.  Friends (like Tim!) and family celebrated with us and it was a great day.

Bryan and Tim in 2004

At our church, fathers can baptize their own children, and Bryan did baptize Nathan, Megan and Evan.  Justin felt after Bryan died like he had missed his opportunity.  It took him a good while to entertain the idea of baptism again, and we had lots of conversations about it.  Carsten was listening to all of them.  Just recently, he came to me and said,

Carsten:  "Mom, when you believe that Jesus is the Son of God and want to follow Him, you're supposed to be baptized, right?"

Me:  "Yes, that's right."

Carsten:  "I want to be baptized so that I'll go to heaven."

Me:  "Well, you don't actually HAVE to be baptized to go to heaven.  [Megan inserts a comment about the thief on the cross.]  You see, baptism is just a sign of obedience- a way to tell everyone that you've decided to follow Jesus.  The only thing that you have to do to go to heaven is believe that Jesus died for your sins and was raised again on the third day.  Baptism is the next step, but you don't have to be baptized to be saved."

Carsten, silently looking at me for several moments: "So are you supposed to be baptized or not?"

Me:  "Umm, yes."

Carsten:  "Then let's do it."

And so my little rule-follower led the way and the two little buddies decided to be baptized.  I really thought Carsten would back out.  First, he hates to be wet.  If he gets a single drop of water on his shirt, he changes his entire outfit.  Second, he HATES to have people look at him.  He must have said, in the days leading up to the big event, ten times, "I just wish they didn't have to look at me."  And then in the car on the way to church, "Mom, do they look at you when you get married too?"  "Yes, they do."  Deep sigh, head shaking.

Our friend (and youth minister) Paul did a great job setting them at ease.  Justin went first and responded "yes" when Paul asked him if he believed.

Then it was Carsten's turn.  (I was still thinking he might bail.) But he walked forward boldly, stood in water up to his chin, and proclaimed "YES" in a loud and firm voice.

As I went to get the boys wrapped up in towels, Justin ran down the hall to the changing room.

"I got baptized first!"

The Baptism Buddies

Sigh.  Christlike character development is a lifelong process.

"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, 
that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, 
even so we also should walk in newness of life."
Romans 6:3-6

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Rumsfeld's Rules...for Moms

When he was just a little kid, Donald Rumsfeld starting writing down quotes, phrases and words of advice, and storing them in a shoebox.  He continued this practice (trading typed copies for the shoebox) throughout his incredible life.  In his eighty plus years, he's not just seen American history, he's been part of it.  President Ford read his collection of sayings, called them "Rumsfeld's Rules" and had copies distributed throughout his cabinet.

In his new book, Rumsfeld's Rules, Rumsfeld highlights some of his favorite "rules" and gives reflections, applying them to government, business, and leadership.  I read the book over Memorial Day and enjoyed it immensely.  There was so much insight and a good dose of humor, and much of the wisdom applies to people in all walks of life.

Since moms are in leadership positions- managers of the domestic domain- I decided to put together my own reflections on Rumsfeld's Rules...for moms.  His Rules are bolded.

On Parenting Styles:
  • ·         Trust your instincts.  Success depends, at least in part, on the ability to “carry it off.”  There are so many opinions on how to parent properly.  Some of those opinionated experts don’t have children.  None of them have MY children.  None of them have YOUR children.  Lots of parents raise contributing members of society, whether or not they followed a book.  Love your kids and find what works for you.  Your kids know if you’re trying to put on someone else’s show.
  • ·         If a problem has no solution, it may not be a problem, but a fact, not to be solved, but to be coped with over time.  (Shimon Peres)  I recently read an article contrasting French and American parenting.  French parents, apparently, set firm rules, starting by letting their kids “cry it out” at four months.  As a result, French children are “better behaved” than American children.  Too bad that they grow up to burn cars on the streets of Paris.  Beware the promise of a perfect child!  Just because something he does is annoying or inconvenient doesn’t mean there’s a “fix,” despite the wealth of “experts” out there who might tell us otherwise.  Those little people are born with personalities, and though we can influence, they are who they are.
  • ·         Don’t panic.  Things may be going better than they seem from the inside.  Everything seems like a big deal when you’re with the kiddos all day.  Most of it turns out not to be.  Take a deep breath.  They might actually turn out okay after all.
  • ·         Nothing ages so quickly as yesterday’s vision of the future.  (Richard Corliss)  You have no idea what tomorrow holds.  Just do your best and worry as little as possible.

On Chores:
  • ·         You get what you inspect, not what you expect.  I remember writing this down when I first heard it quoted at an organization workshop.  I’m still working to be disciplined about inspections!  If I don’t inspect their chores, they often go undone, or at least partially done.
  • ·         The two most important rules in Washington D.C. are: Rule One: “The cover-up is worse than the event.”  Rule Two:  “No one ever remembers the first rule.”  I’d rather see a messy room today than find a closeted hoard a week from now, and my kids know it, but the cover-up seems to just be embedded in human nature.  Mete out a double consequence for hidden crimes!
  • ·         People don’t spend money earned by others with the same care that they spend their own.  When Nathan was little, he was trying to get me to buy him a toy.  “Why don’t you buy it with your money?”  I asked.  “I’m not going to waste my money on that!” he exclaimed.  It’s good for kids to earn- and spend- their own money.  
     On Children's Criticism:
  • ·         If you are not being criticized, you may not be doing much.  Growing up in Germany, I would see shepherds with their sheep.  If the sheep were in fences, contentedly munching grass and getting fat, they were quiet.  But when the shepherd would take them out on the path and move them, they would raise such a ruckus, you could hear them all over the woods.  Herding sheep (and children) results in a lot of complaining, but it’s just the shepherd’s job.  Remember:
  • ·         If you do something, somebody’s not going to like it.  Just because they don’t like it, doesn’t mean it’s not the best thing for them.  They may even thank you for it later.  (And, if not, at least you’ve given them something interesting to discuss with their shrink.)
  • ·         Not all negative press is unearned.  If you’re getting it, see if there’s a reason.  Sometimes kids have a point.  It’s hard to listen when they’re being disrespectful or whiny, but it’s still good to listen and see if there’s any truth to it.  And teach them to dissent in a congenial way.

      On Parenting Boys:
  • ·         Never assume the other guy will never do something you would never do.  Because boys will do things you had never imagined.
  • ·         The only thing that should be surprising is that we continue to be surprised.  And the longer you parent boys, the less surprised you are.
  • ·         When you’re in a bind, create a diversion.  (Alf Landon)  Always be suspicious if they bring you flowers.
  • ·         What you see is what you get.  What you don’t see gets you.  If they’re hollering like they’re killing each other, it’s fine.  If they’re quiet, be afraid.

On Planning:
  • ·         If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there. (Paraphrase of Lewis Carroll)  Moms spend a lot of time in the weeds.  We feed people, change diapers, referee squabbles, and focus almost exclusively on the urgent.  It’s really important to take a step back and remember the big picture.  What are we aiming for?  Where are we headed?  What values are driving our family and parenting?
  • ·         If you expect people to be in on the landing, include them for the takeoff.  Once I’ve decided to make a change, I’ve found it helpful, rather than just announcing it, to take some time- perhaps days or weeks depending on how big the change is- to walk the kids through my thought process.  I have to be careful that they know that I am the one making the decision, not they, but it gives them a chance to adjust and, yes, to complain, and feel that they have been heard.  Which brings us to the next rule:
  • ·         Stubborn opposition to proposals often has no basis other than the complaining question, “Why wasn’t I consulted?” (Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan)
  • ·         This strategy represents our policy for all time.  Until it’s changed.  (Marlin Fitzwater)  Plans change.  Kids grow.  Circumstances alter.  I try not to worry too much about whether something is going to work “forever.”  It won’t.  But if it works now, it’s a good thing.
  • ·         If you’re coasting, you’re going downhill.  (LW Pierson)  Having a big vision for your family and implementing it is challenging, but it’s worth it.  In life, as in cycling, you only get the stunning views if you climb the mountain.
       And finally:
  • In tough jobs, the days are long and the years are short.  (Former Secretary of State George Schulz)